Hitting Publish: Why Your First Goal Isn’t To Sell Books

You’re publishing your first book. Your main goal is to get a lot of sales right away, right? Wrong.

Okay, not exactly wrong, as who doesn’t want a lot of sales? But starting out focusing on how many books you sell can lead to feeling discouraged, which can lead to failing to do what you need to do to get those sales.

In the beginning, you need reviews:

Good, bad, and indifferent, you need reviews of your first book. Once you have a decent cover and a solid book description, reviews are what convinces people who don’t know you to consider buying your novel. A large number of reviews shows a lot of people have bought the book, which cues readers it’s worth giving it a try.

Quantity matters:

It’s more about how many reviews than whether they are all good. In fact, most readers who see ten five-star reviews figure those are all the author’s friends, which is probably right, at least with a first book. So you actually want that person who likes one part of the book and not another to review your novel.

The occasional one-star review is not bad either. It shows your novel evokes strong feelings. It can especially be helpful if the reviewer says why she or he didn’t like the book, if it’s something that would draw in your ideal reader. For example, I had a so-so review from someone who commented “Think plot,” as a criticism of The Awakening. I was happy with that. I write thrillers. Thrillers need strong plots.

Ways you can get reviews:

Getting reviews can be a challenge. Think about how many times you read a book, watch a movie, or buy a product compared to how often you review one. While I don’t have a magic formula, here are some suggestions:

  • If someone you know emails you to say something positive about the book, politely ask that person to cut and paste the comment into a review wherever the book was bought.
  • Choose a week to list the book at 99 cents and purchase ads in enewsletters that will accept new releases in your genre. Assume you won’t earn this money back, so spend only what you can afford. Remember, the goal is to generate sales and get reviews that will help sales in the long run, not to earn money right now.
  • Ask your friends on Facebook to read and review the book if they like books like yours. (So if your novel is a horror novel, write a post asking that friends who like to read horror read and review the book.) Let them know how important reviews are to a book’s success. Don’t do this all the time, obviously, but there’s nothing wrong with asking once and asking again a few months down the line. These are your friends, they want to help you out.
  • Be active on Goodreads, a social media network for readers. By active, I mean be active as a reader. Review other people’s books. Eventually as people start seeing your reviews and get a sense of who you are, they will check out what you write and hopefully post some reviews.
  • List your book on Goodreads and, if you have a paperback edition, consider running a book giveaway. This gets your book in front of a lot of readers. Ideally, the people who win the book will review it, though they may not. You can see some examples of current giveaways here. (One caveat—if you’re cost conscious, offer the book only to people in your own country. It can be very expensive to send books internationally.)
  • On author platforms that specifically allow it (such as some author/reader Goodreads or Facebook groups), post a link to your book and ask for reviews. Be sure to check the group’s guidelines, though, before posting about your own book. If it’s a group that doesn’t allow that, you may find yourself banned.
  • Do an Internet search for book bloggers in your genre and contact them to ask if they would like to read and review your book. Keep in mind that bloggers get lots of requests, so check their guidelines, contact them by their preferred method, and send a short, polite request.
What not to do:
  • Don’t pay for reviews. Services that charge to list your book and make it available to reviewers are probably okay, but if you’re paying for a review, that review may get taken off the book sales platforms where it’s posted. Amazon in particular is vigilant about paid or shill reviews, some authors say to the point of taking down valid reviews that inadvertently raise flags.
  • Be wary of review-for-review exchanges with other authors. It can be tricky because whether it’s stated or not, the implication is good review for good review, as unless you’re kind of a jerk, you probably won’t feel right posting a bad review of someone’s book who praised yours.
  • Don’t push friends and family members who aren’t interested to post reviews. First, while it’d be nice if everyone supported what you do, people are busy, and if they’re not readers, don’t like the type of book you wrote, or feel awkward about telling you they didn’t love the book, you’ll only succeed in making them avoid you. Second, and more important for your career, it could be harmful to your novel’s success to have reviews from people who usually don’t read or buy books in your genre.

As author Chris Fox explains in The Six Figure Author, Amazon uses data to determine to which potential buyers to show your novel. If you write hardcore science fiction and three-quarters of the people who buy your novel the first month read mostly cozy mysteries and diet books, Amazon will likely suggest your book to strangers who read cozies and diet books. Based on their reading preferences, those people are highly unlikely to buy your sci fi novel. Which can then result in Amazon not showing it to anyone anymore, undercutting your long-term goal of selling novels. (So cheer up–when friends and family members make excuses for not reading or reviewing your book, they may be doing you a favor.)

In the end…

It takes time, but remember embarking on a career as a novelist is like building any other business. In the beginning, you spend a lot of time letting people know what you’re doing and trying to bring in work. You know every single source of business personally and can trace it back to the specific pitch you made. Eventually, though, someone tells someone who tells two more people who pass on recommendations to their friends and you start getting reviews–and sales–from people you’ve never met.

Good luck and best wishes for productive week.

L. M. Lilly

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 4: Control

Skip this post if you don’t have any control issues.

Still here? Me too.

So let’s talk about control and the best way to publish your novel. So far, of the factors listed in Do You Need A Publisher (Part 1) that affect whether you pursue a traditional publishing deal or publish your fiction yourself, I’ve covered money and the desire for prestige or recognition.

Money is probably highest on my list right now because I’ve radically cut back my law practice, and my goal this year is to live on what I earn as a writer. (I have a long way to go, but that’s another post.)

If you’re planning to continue with your current career or profession, though, how much you earn from your writing might not be a driving force for you. As for recognition, for some writers, it’s the whole point. Others who have a first profession prefer to keep it separate from writing, so they use a pen name, particularly if they perceive their colleagues or clients may see their writing as a distraction.

Control, though, that’s another thing.

Who Needs Control?

Odds are, if you’re successful at what you’re doing now, it’s because you were able to manage your career well. If you run–or are a partner in–a business or firm, at the very least, you probably prefer choosing for yourself what you do with your time and how best to pursue your professional goals.

Also, and perhaps more important, most artists and writers want control of how their work goes out into the world. I once attended a horror convention where four novelists whose books had been made into films spoke on a panel. They agreed that helped them earn money, gain name recognition, and sell more books. Those of us in the audience wanted to know how they got those film deals and whether we could ever hope to get one. But three of four panelists spent most of the hour complaining about the hatchet jobs the filmmakers had done on their stories.

(F. Paul Wilson, the fourth panelist, declined to join the complaints. He said he hadn’t loved the film made of The Keep, but it prompted a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise have found it to buy the novel, and that was all good. I really liked that about him.)

When it comes to control, traditional publishing is a bit like handing your fiction over to the film producer. I say “a bit” because you’ll have a say over revisions, unlike if your book were turned into a screenplay by someone else. The text of the novel is likely to be for the most part as you wrote it. You probably won’t, though, be able to choose which specific editor you want. And, as with a movie, as a new writer, you’ll have no control over how the final product looks, how it’s priced, or how it’s marketed.

How much does this matter? It depends.

Covers

At a writing retreat I attended, New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs showed slides of different covers one publisher had used for one of her novels. She wrote women’s and mainstream fiction. She had zero input into the first cover. It had a dark purple background, making the novel somewhat foreboding. It didn’t sell very well, despite her previous success and devoted audience. She pointed out over and over to the publisher that her readers reached for her books like they would reach for a box of candy.

Finally the book was re-released with an upbeat cover with pink edging that looked like ribbons. It did give the same impression as a beautiful box of Valentine’s candy. Her sales shot up accordingly.

As a self-published author, you choose your cover designer and your cover. Recently, despite that I loved the cover for my first thriller, The Awakening, I had it redesigned when a fellow author pointed out to me that it didn’t look good in the thumbnail size on Amazon. (I’ve pasted in both below—the original on the left, the new on the right.)

I also wanted the new cover to fit with the design for the fourth and final book in the series, which is coming out in May, 2017. Because I’m the one who chooses the design, I could make that switch without needing to convince anyone else.

Control has its downsides, though, because we don’t always have the knowledge we need.

I’ve seen indie authors choose covers that don’t convey the type of book or that don’t look professional. It’s also easy to get too wedded to your concept of the book without being a good judge of how that hits the reader. With traditional publishers, you’ll get a professionally-designed cover chosen by someone more objective who has more experience matching covers to genres.

Price

Have you ever gone on Amazon to buy a book thinking you’ll buy it for Kindle and start reading that day, then changed your mind and ordered a paperback when you compared the prices? Take Louise Penny’s latest mystery, for example, because I love her books so much. A Great Reckoning as I write this lists at $14.99 for the hardback, $14.99 for the ebook, and $9.99 for the trade paperback.

If this seems crazy to you given that ebooks don’t require printing or paper, you’re not alone. What’s the deal? Traditional publishers a while back won a drawn-out fight with Amazon so that they can price their ebooks as high as they want. It’s one of the reasons a slightly higher percentage of print books v. ebooks were sold last year than the previous year. If the ebook costs the same or more to buy, a lot of readers would rather have paper.

If you’re Louise Penny, author of a popular, long-running series, this pricing is probably fine. Fans like me will run out and get the book as soon as it comes out no matter the price.

For most other authors, though, this type of pricing is not so great. If I don’t know who an author is, even a compelling cover and intriguing blurb won’t make me plunk down $14.99 or even $9.99. I’ll put the book on my Goodreads shelf if a friend highly recommends it. But I’ll probably buy it only if I come across it again somehow and the price has dropped, I find it in the library or at a used bookstore, or I happened to get a nice check in the mail and I feel like spending.

As a self-published author, most of my royalties come from ebook sales, then audiobook sales, then print. Because I get a larger share of the purchase price than do traditional authors, I can price my ebooks fairly low. In fact, right now, my first book in my series is free in all its ebook editions, then Books 2 and 3 are $3.99 and $4.99. At other times, I’ve priced The Awakening at anywhere from $4.99 down to $0.99—all much easier prices at which to entice a new reader.

Also, many of the email subscription newsletters that list bargain ebooks only list books at $4.99 or below. As a self-published author, I can choose to discount my book for the increase in sales or in the hope of selling later titles in my catalogue. Traditional publishers sometimes do the same, but the author has no say in when or how or why.

Marketing And Advertising

As an indie author, I pay for all advertising. Until this year, I wasn’t relying heavily on income from royalties, so I didn’t pay as much attention as I now wish I had to which ads result in the most sales. I know which ones were amazing—Bookbub and Ereadernews Today—and the ones that didn’t do much for sales, but for a lot in between I’m not sure. This year I’m experimenting cautiously and keeping better records.

Whether traditional publishers are better at knowing what works and doesn’t with advertising is an open question. But if you have a traditional publishing deal, the publisher is paying for the ads (and for premium placement in bookstores if you’re really lucky), not you, so at least you’re not directly bearing the cost.

Also, with a traditional deal, you can and should engage in marketing and public relations on your own. You can maintain your own email list, be active on social media, and contact bookstores about speaking there if your publisher isn’t doing enough for you. From what I hear, most small and medium-sized publishers expect authors to do quite a bit of that if they expect to sell.

Another sales issue is the summary on the book jacket or on line. As an indie, you write that book description yourself or engage a copywriter to do it. If you have a publishing contract, you give up that control. As with the cover, that can be good or bad. You may be able to do a great job writing your summary, and as an indie, you’ll be able to tweak the description to see what works. On the other hand, being a step removed, the traditonal publisher may do a better job targeting your market.

That latter point isn’t always the case, though. I’ve known several traditionally-published authors who felt their publishers missed the mark in how they described their novels.

Rights

What formats you make your novel available in is up to you if you self-publish. As I talked about in a previous post, as an indie author, I can make my books available as audiobooks, paperbacks, ebooks, and in any other format that comes along. I retain all my rights.

With a traditional publishing deal, often the publisher has those rights but is not required to use them. So you may give up your right to produce an audiobook of your novel, but the publisher may opt not to produce one even if you request it.

Righting The Ship

As in most other industries, it’s much harder for a large company to shift a business model than it is for one person. That’s part of why it’s taken so long for traditional publishers to begin marketing backlist titles as ebooks and to start email lists of their own when indie authors have used these tactics successfully for years.

That’s the main thing I like about publishing my own work. The books I’ve mapped out to write and publish this year may or may not be bestsellers, may or may not be popular, and may or may not earn as much as I hope they will. But if I’m not happy with my results, I can take different approach next year without any major upheaval.

So What’s Better?

As the pluses and minuses above show, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Whether you’ll be happier having control over every aspect of your fiction or handing over much of it to a publisher depends on the pros and cons of the particular book, publisher, and deal. Also, it’s not an either/or situation. You can publish one novel or series yourself and seek a traditional publishing deal for another.

What will work best for you also depends upon who you are as a person. When I started my own law firm, despite that I had many of the same clients and did the same type of work as I had at a large firm, I enjoyed it much more because it was my firm. If I was working Sunday night, at least I was the one who’d chosen to take on that project or promised to meet that deadline. I also was the one who kept the profit. And, finally, down the road, I could adopt a different business model.

So far, I see writing similarly. If that changes as I move forward, I’ll let you know.

I hope this has helped you sort through your options.

Best wishes for a productive, not-too-stressful week.

L. M. Lilly

 

Author Earnings On Amazon

Sunday’s post (Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money) addressed how the  publishing path you take might affect how much you earn. This week’s recommendation is a report from AuthorEarnings.com tallying author earnings based on over one million titles available on Amazon.

The data is presented in income brackets, such as $10,000 in Amazon sales per year and seven figures in Amazon sales per year. The report includes graphs showing how many authors fit in each bracket by type of publication, so you can see the number of self-published authors versus Big 5 published authors who, for instance, earned six figures per year from Amazon sales.

The report also compares long-established authors with newbies. For example, the report shows “1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured ‘old guard.'”

You can read the AuthorEarnings report here:

http://authorearnings.com/report/may-2016-report/

Have a great weekend!

L. M. Lilly

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money

Mary Higgins Clark was paid a $64 million advance for a five-book deal. The average advance for a first novel, however, is generally between $5,000 to $15,000. Most novelists, including published ones, don’t make a living writing. They supplement with other work, often as teachers of writing, speakers, editors, or non-fiction writers. Others write on the side and earn most of their money in another profession.

In Do You Need A Publisher (Part 1), I talked about the factors that might affect whether you pursue a traditional publishing deal or publish your work yourself. Those factors include:

  • a desire for prestige and recognition, which I talked about last week
  •  a desire to earn money
  • a desire for control over your work
  • a desire to run a business, and
  • what type of book you’re writing

You can make money no matter how you publish, but here are some differences in what you’re likely to earn and how it may affect your career:

The Big 5 Publishers

The authors who make the most money up front are the household names, such as Mary Higgins Clark, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Most authors in this league have been writing and selling novels for decades, but sometimes a debut novel will be bought for a six or seven figure advance. The Big 5 are the publishers that can pay these types of advances. An advance means the author is paid before the book is published. If the book earns enough in royalties to repay the advance, the author is then paid royalties as well. The upsides of this type of deal are obvious. Before the book goes to press, you have a good chunk of money in your pocket.

On the downside, the need for the book to earn back the advance is a lot of pressure. If it doesn’t happen, that may tank the chances of a contract for later books. More significant for most new writers is that the odds against landing a deal with a large publisher are near zero. First, you’ll need to spend time and effort trying to find a literary agent to represent you before the Big 5 will consider your work. Second, even through literary agents, the Big 5 most often enter contracts with established authors.

Given the potential large payoff, though, if you think your book will fit one of these publishers, don’t be dissuaded by the odds. Not only is there a shot at a large advance and the publicity and marketing that comes with it, much of what you do to pursue your goal will help you if you later decide to try another route. For instance, crafting a compelling query letter to agents can also help you write queries to publishers or write marketing copy if you self-publish.

Small and medium-sized publishers

Small to medium-sized publishers usually offer advances between a few thousand dollars and $45,000, though some very small presses may offer no advance. The financial upsides include possible up front money and the fact that the publisher pays the publishing costs, such as cover art and editing. The publisher also may help market and publicize the book, and most bookstores are more willing to carry a traditionally-published book than a self-published one.

The downsides include that the author has limited or no control over many factors that affect a book’s sales, such as the quality of cover art, editorial services, marketing copy, where and when the book is advertised, and the price. Also, the size of the advance usually matches the marketing budget. A $5,000 marketing budget won’t go very far, and you’ll likely have lost control of your work and rights that might help you earn more money.

One of my income streams is from the audiobook editions of the first three books in my Awakening series. I did a royalty-share deal with the producer/narrators, and the books were already written, so creating the audiobooks was a no brainer. If you sign a contract granting those rights to a publisher, though, you no longer have that option, and the publisher may not be obligated to produce audiobooks. Finally, royalties from a publisher range from 10-25% of the purchase price, while when you self-publish, your royalties range from 30-70% of the book’s price.

Publishers that charge the author/vanity presses

If the fee is reasonable and you’d rather spend money than invest time in publishing your own work, you might be the lucky one-in-a-million author able to earn money by paying a company to publish. You need to consider, though, how much you’re paying compared to how many books you’re likely to sell, keeping in mind that these types of companies, no matter what they say about marketing or publicity, rarely do much to sell your book. Publishers that pay the author an advance and hope to earn it back and then some through book sales have an incentive to see that your book sells. Companies you pay do not. They are making money off of you.

For that reason, in my view, it’s a very long shot that you’ll make money paying a company to publish your work. You’re also risking paying for services that will be inferior to what you could have contracted for yourself. The only time I suggest these types of companies is if:

(a) the fee is not that much more than you would spend if you found the services you need yourself;

(b) you get a referral from someone whose books are selling well and who is earning more than she or he spent;

(c) the person who referred you is selling the same type of book you wrote; and

(d) that author’s books are well-edited (no typos, good story arc) and have professional-looking covers that fit the books’ genre.

Independent/Self-Publishing

Some authors earn an excellent living by publishing multiple books themselves, by self-publishing and later being picked up by traditional publishers (as happened with The Martian), or by some combination of the two. A few authors that appear to have done quite well self-publishing include Hugh Howey, J.F. Penn, and Melissa Foster. Others earn enough to write full-time or have a decent side stream of income. Others, usually those who publish only one or two books and devote little time or money to marketing, spend more on self-publishing than they earn.

On the upside, as noted, indies earn a much larger share of royalties, particularly on ebooks, than do traditionally-published authors. That means you can generally price your books lower to gain readers while earning the same amount in royalties or more per book than traditional authors do. Indies also retain all their rights and have control over the covers, marketing, editing, etc.

The downside of indie publishing is that the indie must pay the publication costs, which range anywhere from zero (as all aspects can be handled by the author) to a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. In addition, if you plan to market your book through paid advertising, you pay for that as well.

The Short Version

To pull this all together, the Big 5 offer the biggest potential for large advances and stellar advertising and marketing, indie/self-publishing offers great potential earnings if you’re in it for the long haul, and the likely financial rewards of publishing with small/medium publishers vary widely depending upon the advance offered and the publisher’s marketing budget. If you publish with a small or medium-sized publisher or you self-publish, a lot of your success will depend on how much time, effort, and sometimes money you are personally willing to invest. As for publishers who charge you, there may be some authors out there who made money that way, but in my opinion, it’s a buyer-beware proposition.

Stay tuned for posts on the other factors that go into choosing a publishing path.

Until then, best wishes for a productive, peaceful week.

L. M. Lilly

Why And How Self-Published Authors Offer Free Books

This Friday’s recommendation is an episode from the website that I find most useful on writing and publishing, The Creative Penn. (The double-n comes from host Joanna Penn’s last name.) Joanna interviews Damon Courtney, the founder of BookFunnel.com. BookFunnel is one way authors can offer a free book for various purposes, such as providing review copies or giving readers a free book to sign up for an email list. He and Joanna also discuss the rise of indie publishing.

Joanna generally spends the first part of each show updating listeners on her publishing journey and commenting on tweets and emails. If you want to skip to the interview, click this link, hit play, and move to 19:30.

Have a good weekend! Stop back on Sunday for a new post.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Joanna always includes bullet points from and a transcript of the interview on the page with the episode, so scroll down if you’d rather read it or prefer to skim the content before listening.

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 1: 5 Types Of Publishing

If you’re writing or have written a book, one of your first questions probably is whether you need to find a publisher to sell it. Fifteen or twenty years ago, most writers never asked this question. The only workable way to sell was if an established print publisher accepted your work.

That’s because there were no ereaders or tablets, and a lot of people (including me) had a PC, not a laptop. No one wanted to curl up with a PC to read by the fire. While you could pay a printer to print your book, you usually had to buy hundreds or thousands of copies, which was expensive, and most of them sat in your basement and/or ended in a landfill.

Also, there simply was no good way to let people know your book was for sale. After you sold five copies to friends and family—or a hundred copies if you had a lot of friends and family—that was it. That’s why this type of publishing was often referred to as vanity publishing. You spent a lot of money so you could say you’d written and published a book, but you were lucky if a handful of people read it.

Now, with e-readers and print-on-demand paperbacks, there’s no need to order a thousand copies, or any copies, in advance. Once the initial costs, such as cover and editing, are paid for, an ebook costs you nothing to deliver. For print-on-demand, the book is printed when the reader buys it, and the author and printer share the dollars earned, so there’s no need spend a lot up front. More important, the Internet, social media, email, and other forms of communication allow authors to reach and sell to readers directly.

So the question is not so much Do you need a publisher—you don’t—but Are you better off with a publisher rather than publishing yourself? That depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • What you want out of writing (money? prestige?)
  • How much control you want over your work
  • Whether you like running a business
  • What type of book you’re writing

I’ll talk about each of these points in future posts. First, a little about each path to publication.

  • Large Publishers: A year after college, I finished my first novel—a young adult novel at a time when young adult, due to demographics, wasn’t a big genre. Back then, there were a lot of different publishing companies of all sizes. Since then, the publishing industry, at least at the big money end, has contracted. By July, 2013, there were only six major trade publishers.

Now, there are only the Big 5:

(1) Hachette Book Group

(2) HarperCollins

(3) Macmillan Publishers

(4) Penguin Random House and

(5) Simon and Schuster

Each has imprints. For instance, HarperCollins includes Avon Books, William Morrow, Harper Business, HarperCollinsChildrens, and many others. Getting a publishing contract with one of the Big 5 almost always requires having literary agent. Most of the books the Big 5 publish are by authors who have previously been published, often by that particular publisher, whose books have sold well.

If you get a contract with one of these publishers, you will be paid an advance on royalties, and it will probably be significant. If your book earns back the advance through sales, you’ll then be paid additional amounts for most of your book sales. If your first book doesn’t earn back the advance, you’ll probably have a  hard time getting another publishing contract.

  • Small and medium-sized publishers:  These are publishing companies that are not gigantic but that publish print books and sometimes ebooks as well. They offer a better chance at publication for a new author or for an author who has loyal readers, but who hasn’t become a household name. Some have a substantial list of authors, others publish only a handful.

Like large publishers, medium-sized and small publishers pay you an advance, though it may be $1,000 or less for small publishers. I’ve been told that the size of the advance generally equals the size of the marketing budget. So if you get a $15,000 advance, the publisher will likely put $15,000 into a marketing and sales campaign. (This is supposedly true with large publishers as well, which is a good argument for trying to obtain an agent and a contract with a publisher who is willing to pay an advance of $100,000 or more.)

One element indie/self-published authors control and are responsible for is the book cover. To the left is an audiobook cover for The Conflagration, Book 3 in my Awakening series. I just had this cover redesigned after feedback that my first cover didn’t look good in thumbnail size on Amazon. 

 

 

  • Publishing services: Some companies coordinate for an author the services needed to self-publish, such as cover design, editing, and marketing copy. The companies then charge the author a flat fee up front for the package.

There also are companies that provide those services and rather than charging, take a percentage of royalties. I distinguish both these types of companies from vanity publishers because while they presumably need to make a profit or they wouldn’t be in business, they are not significantly ratcheting up the pricing over what you would spend if you contracted these services yourself.

The best way to evaluate whether you are paying mainly for coordination of services as opposed to paying a premium to say you have a publisher is to compare the total fee to what the services would cost if you contracted directly with freelancers for the same work. Also, a good place to check out companies that want to charge you to publish your work are the Watchdog Reports from the Alliance of Independent Authors.  

  • Vanity presses: These are presses and publishers who charge you significantly more to publish your work than you would pay if you contracted the services yourself. Some people in the traditional literary world view any type of self-publishing or use of publishing services as “vanity.” I think that’s a mistake, but they have a right to their view that the only “real” publishing is traditional publishing where the author pays nothing and the control is in the hands of the publisher.

Often a vanity press will make a lot of claims about how much publicity they will provide for your work. This frequently amounts to little more than posting your book on their own websites and writing a press release that will blast out to various news outlets and websites that generally have no interest in your book. Tons of people are publishing books now, so the news about that is that it’s not news. Don’t pay someone to send press releases.

Remember, you can publish your own work through various ebook and print platforms with no up front cost to you at all if you are willing to put in the effort to learn how. Based on that, in my view, any charge to you for a publishing package that gets into thousands of dollars is far too much.

  • Independent/Self-Publishing: A self-published or independent author handles all publishing tasks and the business of publishing either by personally undertaking these efforts or finding and paying freelancers to do them. Platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo Writing Life allow authors to post and sell their work and do not charge anything up front for doing so. The platform makes money by taking a cut of the sales price — generally far less than a traditional publisher takes. As an indie/self-published author, you make all the decisions. The title, the cover art, the editing, and where to sell are all up to you.

Now we have a common language when talking about publishing. In future posts, I’ll talk about the pluses and minuses of each of these approaches. In the meantime, please feel free to share your experiences with any of these types of publishing in the comments section.

Best wishes for a productive, not-too-stressful new year.

L. M. Lilly

Self-Publishing Overview

This week I’m recommending the tips and news portion of the year end Sell More Books Show. It’s an overview of what’s been happening in publishing and self publishing over the last year. If you’re new to marketing your own work or thinking of self publishing at some point, it also serves as a great introduction to both.

The Sell More Books Show podcast issues every Wednesday. Between the two of them, the hosts write and sell fiction and have extensive experience in copywriting and digital commerce. The show typically starts with listeners’ answers to the previous question of the week and some ad reads for patrons of the show. I like hearing the ads because it helps me evaluate what sorts of tag lines for books do and don’t catch my interest.

The meat of the show comes it two parts — tips of the week and news of the week. The former are tips from various authors and self publishers, culled from blogs and other shows, on writing and marketing. The news portion covers developments in the publishing industry as a whole, both indie and traditional publishing. The word “news” is interpreted fairly broadly, as it sometimes includes musings from authors in on-line communities that strike me more as commentary and conjecture than fact (okay, I admit it, I’m old enough to still think of news as information that’s vetted and fact-checked and separate from commentary).

On my first listen of this podcast, some of the sound effects (such as burbling when there’s what’s called a lab segment) and the hosts’ nicknames (“Jazzy Jim Kukral” and the “Bad Man Bryan Cohen”) put me off, as I thought there might not be much substance. But I find I typically listen to the entire show when I tune in, though it’s often almost an hour, as there is plenty of helpful information with just enough chatting and joking to get a feel for who the hosts are.

Click here for the episode. (Scroll down half a page or so to get to the Play button.) If you want to skip the preliminaries, move the counter to 9:50 to start with the tips.

Best wishes for a good weekend and a happy, safe, and peaceful New Year.

L. M. Lilly

Do You Write/Love/Read Literary or Commercial Fiction?

If you’ve ever wondered why novels are classified as literary versus genre/commercial fiction, why you love a book your friend calls “trash” or vice versa, or whether you are writing literary or popular/commercial fiction, this 10-minute Journeyman Writer episode is for you.

In this episode, my favorite writing podcast covers—in the clearest fashion I’ve ever heard or read—the distinction between genre and literary fiction. As always, host Alastair Stephens sticks to the point, is thoughtful and entertaining, and has a voice you’ll love to listen to.

You can listen at the link below or follow the instructions to download to your phone or listen on iTunes (or whatever podcast app you use).

Episode 15: Genre vs. Literature

Have a wonderful weekend.

Best,

L. M. Lilly